The Biggest Barrier to Your Ability to Focus, Create & Innovate: Stress
We all know the experience of being in the flow – in the zone.
Time slows – or speeds up – and our brains are firing at the rapid speed of Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.
We make connections we didn’t previously see, we forget to take bathroom breaks because we’re so focused, and we don’t even think about checking our phones. Only one thing exists: the laser focus, creativity, and innovation that flow through us. Basically, we feel our best and perform our best!
What is Flow, Exactly?
Being in this creative flow is so important in the 21st Century that several studies show that creativity is the most desirable trait in choosing a CEO.
This experience – called “flow” in psychology – is the result of a fairly amazing transformation in brain function. Areas that typically limit us (did you know your limiting thoughts and beliefs are associated with certain regions in your brain?) are shut down, and our brain waves slow from their typical beta waves to alpha or theta waves, which are associated with deep relaxation and REM sleep. Don’t let the notion of your brainwaves “slowing down” fool you. Alpha and theta waves have been shown to boost creativity, focus, and innovation, and even decrease depression and rumination.
Then, like a cherry on top of a decadent cake dessert from Cake Wars, our brains are flushed with delicious neurochemicals – norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, and other pleasing and performance-enhancing neurotransmitters.
In summary, being in flow is like bathing in a warm tub of maple syrup. There’s absolutely nothing better. (Or, at least, I think so. I haven’t tested that analogy yet, it just sounds amazing.) Research shows that the more time you spend in flow, the more primed your brain is to return to flow. In essence, creativity begets creativity, and the cycle continues to build on itself.
Flow, Creativity, and Stress
Without your inner critic judging and blocking your ideas, you instead see patterns and solutions you previously missed or disregarded, your imagination and lateral thinking expand, and you digest and acquire information rapidly.
Welcome to the birthing ground of focus, creativity, and innovation – basically, your path to success!
I know what you’re thinking. Besides still wondering about the maple syrup bath.
“How do I spend more time in flow?”
One way to approach that question is to investigate what prevents you from being in flow. One of your biggest inhibitors – and likely a prevalent experience in your life – is stress. There’s a lot of research on stress, and in short, stress ruins your life. It can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, depression, impaired learning and memory, anxiety, jeopardized immune function, decreased bone density, heart disease… the list goes on, and can be summarized as this: stress = very bad.
Possibly the most interesting and frightening thing about prolonged stress is it actually changes your brain, making it harder to focus, learn, create, and innovate. Even worse, stress increases stress. Like any behavior, it’s a habit. The more stressed you are, the more likely you are to be stressed. Chronic stress becomes the norm for your body and your mind.
Why Stress Kills Creativity
As you can imagine, stress is a huge creativity killer. When your body is circulating stress hormones, primarily, you can get stuck in a fight-flight-freeze response. From that place, you aren’t going to engage in intense problem-solving for the next iteration of your product, or brainstorm ways to increase your margins. Instead, you’re putting out fires, internally and externally. Like most people, you might indulge in bad habits you use to manage your stress. Some people escape into video games, food, drugs, alcohol, sex, and a whole host of other destructive activities, all the while preventing your time in flow.
The good news is it’s not all fire and brimstone. There’s a light at the end of this stressful tunnel. But first we need to understand stress, how it’s influencing our lives, and how we can reduce it, increasing our time in our superhero capes. Also, you should be advised that if you’re going to spend more time in flow states, you should switch your office plants to succulents, because once you’re creating like a badass, you’ll likely forget to water them.
Save the Flow!
There are a number of proven strategies for reducing stress and increasing flow states, and I'm going to be discussing all of them here. I don't want to leave you high and dry. I want you to support your innovation and creation so you can break through any ceilings and barriers to reach the stratosphere of success. Our world needs more people to unlock their potential and offer their unique gifts to the world. Right now, more than ever, our world truly needs great leaders. And, that can be you!
So buckle in, leave your stress at the door, and hold tight. This is going to be the best ride of your life.
Be Well, Be Joyful, Be Inspired…
Have a Beautiful Day…